Residential school survivors battle Ottawa over access to police records

Survivors of a notorious Indian residential school in northern Ontario were in court Tuesday fighting the federal government for access to thousands of documents they say are crucial to their compensation claims.

TORONTO — Survivors of a notorious Indian residential school in northern Ontario were in court Tuesday fighting the federal government for access to thousands of documents they say are crucial to their compensation claims.

The survivors accuse Ottawa of hampering their bid for financial redress by hiding documentary evidence related to a provincial police investigation into St. Anne’s in Fort Albany.

The police probe in the 1990s turned up evidence of horrific abuse, including use of an electric chair and led to criminal convictions.

“The St. Anne’s school is probably one of the most outrageous examples of the abuse of school children in Canadian history,” said commission lawyer Julian Falconer.

“The truth has to be told.”

The federal government has maintained it has no authority to turn over the police materials.

However, a lawyer for the Ontario Provincial Police told Ontario Superior Court he had no issue turning over the records — if authorized by the courts.

“In order for us to release documents, we need judicial authorization,” lawyer Norm Feaver said.

“We certainly don’t want to stand in the way of anything.”

For its part, the government now says it is taking no position regarding the documents in possession of the police.

However, government lawyer Catherine Coughlan said Ottawa could not turn over the materials it has, because it received them from police on an undertaking they would not be passed on to anyone.

Some former St. Anne’s students and supporters filled the courtroom to hear the arguments.

Among them was Edmund Metatawabin, 66, a victim of the electric chair, who accused the government of trying to “hide” evidence.

Hundreds of aboriginal children from remote James Bay communities were sent to St. Anne’s from 1904 to 1976.

Several adults were convicted in the 1990s following an intensive investigation into claims of abuse at the school.